Belonging to Lowell: New boss hopes to inspire happy kids – Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD – Kathy Johnson has two goals for students walking the halls of Lowell Elementary School this year – to be happy and feel they belong.

As the new principal of the school, she plans to build on her 20 years of experience in education as she leads staff and students to their full potential in the region where she began her career 30 years ago.

“It was a great welcome back,” Johnson said during an interview Tuesday, August 23rd in her Lowell office.

After growing up in Baxter and graduating from Brainerd High School, Johnson attended Central Lakes College and Bemidji State University to earn a teaching degree and start doing what she loves.

This love of learning emerged at an early age, as Johnson recalls her childhood when she played school with her sister and read books with her aunts, who were also teachers. I knew then that she was destined to become a teacher.

A year’s internship in a first-grade classroom in Red Lake Falls propelled her into the profession. She then landed her first solo position as a first grade teacher at the former Whittier Elementary School in Brainerd. From there Johnson jumped to first and second grade at Lincoln Elementary School, fifth grade at Forestview Middle School and second grade at Baxter Elementary School.

As her career progressed, various leadership opportunities with curriculum committees and the local teachers’ union prompted Johnson to make the leap from teaching to management.

“I loved working with adults as well as working with children because I just love professional development; I love learning,” she said. “I think that the most important thing for me is that I am always looking for ways in which I can learn and how I can help inspire others to be the best.” “

After 20 years at Brainerd and Baxter, Johnson became the principal of Staples-Motley Elementary School, where she served for nine years. This position provided her with opportunities to work closely with Sourcewell and District 5 Development Committee and go through the MInnesota Principals Academy with leaders from both Staples-Motley and Brainerd.

“I never stopped learning,” she said. “And I love training my new teachers. That’s what I love about being a principal is the collaboration and training with the new teachers.”

Johnson enjoys being able to see the classroom from a different perspective than teachers do and show them the impact they can have on their students.

“It’s so much fun now for me to be in the classroom, to come in and give feedback to the teacher and have conversations about helping them improve their practice and watch these lights go out for the kids,” she said. “…When you teach, you don’t always notice all the little things. When I am in the classroom, I see a lot of things, and it is very interesting to share with the teachers how they inspired the children.”

One of the ways Johnson and her teachers can inspire their students this year is through a book called “The Seven Habits of Happy Kids” by Sean Covey. The plan is to break down and summarize each of the seven habits of the year before the students leave for the summer.

“I hope the kids are excited about it,” she said. “And together we will build those habits.”

The book includes stories and characters that students can relate to, with lessons they can apply in their own lives. It’s one of the tools Johnson and Lowell’s teachers plan to use to help build students’ literacy, enrich mathematics, and social/emotional learning — all areas where students have experienced learning loss over the past two school years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson said the social/emotional piece is a particularly important piece that needs to be addressed after all the students have been through. She paints on the district’s new slogan – “A Place to Belong” to ensure Lowell students feel connected to their peers, teachers and school.

“We have a community here (in Lowell), and we’re all part of this big community,” she said. “Every one of our elementary schools is a place where it belongs, and then we put it together into that bigger picture, and we’re all in this together.”

As she works to make her students feel at home in Lowell, Johnson looks forward to meeting all the new faces and watching as they learn throughout the year.

“I am excited to work with teachers on how they can really provide instruction to meet needs – to move children from where they are to achieve one or more overall development,” she said. “… the meetings I’ve had with the teachers, I’m very impressed with everything they do, and I’m excited to be part of their team and help them continue on this path.”

Johnson knows she has a big shoe to fill after manager Todd Sawyer retires, but she’s hoping she can do career justice.

“I’m just looking forward to a great year,” she said. “And I feel like we’re really off to a great start.”

THERESA BOURKE can be reached at

or 5860-855-218. Follow her on Twitter at


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